Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Retreat on Bid to Ban the Junk Food Adverts

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Retreat on Bid to Ban the Junk Food Adverts

Article excerpt

Byline: JONATHAN PRYNN;BEN LEAPMAN

THE Government was accused of an extraordinary U-turn over advertising of junk food to children today.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell appalled health campaigners by saying she was "sceptical" about the value of bans on direct advertising to children. In a speech to advertising executives today she was expected instead to call for any action to be voluntary, and declare: "Anyone who thinks the solution to this is easy does not understand the problem." Earlier, she told Radio 4's Today programme that Britons were getting fatter because they took less exercise, not because they ate more or were eating unhealthy food - although she said there had been no final decision to throw out demands for a ban.

She added: "The reason I am sceptical is that we have got to come back to the evidence. We are getting fatter because we are less active.

Of course advertising has an impact, but what we have to judge in government... is whether this action would be proportionate.

"Today I am laying down a challenge for the advertisers and saying... 'use your creative genius to promote precisely those healthy eating and activity messages that [Health Secretary] John Reid and I are promoting.' They will do it much more effectively than we do."

Campaigners said her words showed the Government was ducking out of taking tough decisions on one of the most pressing health issues facing the UK.

They also accused Ms Jowell of preempting three high-level inquiries - by the Food Standards Agency, media regulator Ofcom and the health select committee of MPs - into the possible benefits of an advertising ban.

Kath Dalmeny, a spokeswoman for the nutrition lobby group the Food Commission, said: "This Government seems incapable of taking interventionist action against the food industry. It is extremely frustrating. When you have six-year-kids showing the symptoms of middle-age onset diabetes because of their diet, then a few soft campaigns promoting exercise are not going to be enough."

A spokeswoman for the National Consumer Council said she was " disappointed" by the Government's apparent new stance. "We supported the Debra Shipley Bill [calling for a ban on food and drink advertising to young children] and we want to see restrictions on advertising to this vulnerable group."

A spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, which represents dietitians, said she was "concerned" the Government was backing away from tackling the advertising industry.

Some campaigners said Ms Jowell's reluctance to take on the food and advertising industries showed that she still bore the political scars from the Bernie Ecclestone affair six years ago.

As public health minister, Ms Jowell was caught up in the worst row faced by the newly-elected Blair government. …

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